The Reasons We Avoid Creativity: GOLD > ROUGE

An excerpt from my upcoming book… “Applied Creativity; Why Architects Can’t Dance and How to Think Like A Spy”…first three chapters available here...

Gray Staue — Jeremy Lishner

Since we’ve established that creativity is a completely personal, dynamic process, we can equally assert that there may be no one golden reason why have a reluctance to engage our creativity; we shy away from it, are embarrassed or ashamed of it… we feel “it’s stupid”… or worse… convince ourselves we’re not creative at all.

There may be many reasons tied to this reluctance and suppression; some may be personal/emotional, some may be professional, some may be societal. Again, while it’s more likely an amalgamation of multiple experiences and habit, what we can identify is some of the major factors that impact our reluctance to be creative.

I’ve selected three of the most common I believe to have the most significant impact.


There are very, very few occupations a Creative may be (viably) employed that foster their natural talents. Before employment, we’re likely to undergo at least a decade of formal education, which does not facilitate freedom of thought, non-conformity, abstract process, dissent or even constructive criticism. Formal education is passively designed to prepare one with skills for employment (not life).

Let us imagine that creativity was a language… for fun we’ll call it Rouge


Let us also imagine, we all naturally understand Rouge, every single one of us; it is an intrinsically natural language, like love or violence.

We arrive at school at the tender age of six and we discover there is Rouge all round us. Teachers engage with us in Rouge, we paint in Rouge, we play with other kids in Rouge, we learn in Rouge. As we progress through the school years, we are gradually weened off Rouge and instructed in Gold.

*Remember how we learnt the alphabet in rhyme.  The technique of learning via mnemonic devices are excellent for recall and multi-modal delivery, when was the last time you learned anything via song?


All our teaches now speak Gold and address us in Gold.  Subjects are in Gold. We compete with each other over how well we can apply Gold in exams. We value Gold. Repeatedly it’s enforced that the world speaks in Gold and success is measured in Gold.

We remember playing in Rouge and how fun that was, but our options for Rouge are diminishing, perhaps a few subjects here and there or a few extracurricular activities — which feel like utter relief compared to the standard curriculum — but are generally dismissed because no “real work” is involved. Even particular environments which were once painted in Rouge now appear to be laced with Gold or within a Gold building.

Our parents fret over how well we understand Gold; we remind them that we love Rouge and are really enjoying that, but they remind us Rouge isn’t worth as much as Gold. Rouge is permitted to flair out every now and then for a bit of colour — Rouge is applauded for an evening — the status quo remains Gold.

The outcome is inevitable, we all learn how to communicate in Gold. Like any habit that is practiced daily, Gold rapidly becomes the norm. Indeed an effective method of learning any new language is via immersion in the culture. If Rouge is rarely required or valued, why maintain it?

Rouge, in a Gold world, seems the Latin of languages.

For some of us, Rouge is so naturally innate, we make life complicated, reach for the highest coconut and teach ourselves to translate. I’ll speak Rouge to my friends, work in Rouge privately and switch to Gold when I need to. This life though can be insidiously crushing.

Humans are social beings; we naturally adapt to the circumstances we are in. If the world demands linear we adapt, as best we can, to linear process. Where school, tertiary education, trades, business, law, finance, politics all abide by rigid linear process — we — the Rouge — in order to get along — to survive — must bend. It is — it can be — an ugly cycle. And there is always a cost.

To be fair, our peers distrust of Creativity is well intentioned. Few realms of employment are invested in Rouge. If it is our parents job to spare us from pain and prepare us for life, it is in their (our) best interest to play the averages and encourage us towards more stable fields.

While this pressure may be implicit or complicit, it is impossible to ignore that it exists.

As a corollary, what has evolved is a perversion of creativity; an evaluation of Rouge by a Gold standard. Art, creativity, originality, on its own is collectively deemed of little worth unless there is some intrinsic commercial value attached to it. Rouge must literally be weighed in Gold. My ideas are of no worth, unless they have the potential to be sold or applied for profit… take this book for example.

Films, deemed a critical, artistic success may simultaneously be branded a commercial failure, as if one criteria has any relevance to the other.

Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941) by all accounts was a box office failure.  Though nominated for nine Academy Awards the RKO Palace Theater attempted to archive and suppress the film.

The original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) returned a paltry $1m profit. A seminal 90’s film, Fight Club (1999) received a lukewarm reception, earning $100m worldwide off a $63m budget.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) cost $28m and collected only $6m during its opening weekend, though its maintained credibility and cult status earned it a sequel 35 years later with Dennis Villeneuve directing the remake; Blade Runner 2049 (2017) returned a mere $31.5m during its opening weekend from a budget of $150m — by 2019 it was a little more respectable with a recorded return of $259m worldwide.

Films that are deemed a commercial success seem not to be subject to the same critical scrutiny.

Warner Bros’ Suicide Squad (2016), rated at 27% on Rotten Tomatoes (reviews here) with a budget of $175m, finished its theatrical run with a worldwide box office of $746.8m.

Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), the fourth film in the franchise, rated at 33% on Rotten Tomatoes (reviews here), issued a budget of $250m, earning a worldwide box office of $1, 045 billion gross.

Star Wars, Episode One; The Phantom Menace (1999), a budget of $115m (less than half of the aforementioned film) returned $1, 027 billion gross. This, from the film that introduced us to Jar Jar Binks.

For commercial film production, franchising is the new game and China is the key market.

The current demand for original ideas, innovation and creative problem solving is itself a market driven financial one; within a sea of information, organisations recognise a need to discern data for unique solutions and improved performance.

If for most of their life your population has only been practicing Gold… where do you anticipate finding Rouge on demand? Yet when Rouge is required… now more rare than Gold… what is initially offered?


There would be not one Creative in any industry that had not been baited with the offer of “exposure” in lieu of adequate payment.

I defy any other industry; mining, advertising, banking, law, medicine to consent to work for free — not contra — gratis — on the promise someone may ‘promote’ you.

When seeking to engage other professions, we demand the best and qualify the expense; this applies to surgeons, solicitors, accountant, therapists, real estate agents, stock brokers.

Commercial brands are built on the equivalence of cost to value.

Creativity suffers directly the inverse.

We consciously demand the best while simultaneously devalue its worth.

We want a photographer for our portfolio — the best photographer, to make me look good and promote me — then we’ll quibble over the price because ‘my friend has a digital camera’.

The demand for professional Copywriters (for websites, blogs, social media, SEO content etc…) continues to increase exponentially and are collectively offered peanuts, because ‘I can write’.

Accepted that creativity and talent is relative, but the market is no more competitive or variable than any other industry.

How is it we demand the best from both Rouge and Gold, though are only willing to adequately validate, accredit, praise and reimburse one, despite its rarity and essential value?


We would do best to remind ourselves that all that glitters...

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An excerpt from my upcoming book… “Applied Creativity; Why Architects Can’t Dance and How to Think Like A Spy”…first three chapters available here...

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Christopher. S. Sellers is an expert on Creativity + Innovation

Founder + Director of Black Bulb Creative